Wednesday, December 31, 2014

December 2014 Chapter

Welcome to the Read.Write.Repeat. monthly wrap-up.  Every month, I give a quick overview of what books I read, the progress made on the 100 Best Novels goal, a few book-related links, and general blog news.  

December News

As wonderful as the holiday season is, I'm always a little reveled to see it in the rearview mirror. I so much about it, but it's nice to be writing this back in my own house on my own schedule, not worried about wrapping gifts or packing. We just got back from spending 10 days in the Midwest. We loved spending that much time with our families, but we were really ready to be home, too. Sleeping in our own bed and having a quiet house is practically euphoric. Tonight, to celebrate the New Year, we're keeping it simple. Staying home together, eating a gargantuan amount of fresh seafood (our favorite treat!), and talking about our dreams for 2015. It should be a great night! I'm really looking forward to it!

I have done so much reading in the last two months of 2014. A big part of that was because of my Adolescent Literature class, for which I had to read 7 books. Still, I made it through plenty of my own picks as well. Being home has allowed me to pick up Movie Monday again, too, and I reviewed both Mockingjay (loved!) and Bloom (hated!) this month. 

Monday, December 29, 2014

Best Books of 2014

Over the next week, I have a variety of end-of-the-year wrap up posts planned. Call me crazy, but I love this time of year. Charts and statistics of my accomplishments make me weirdly happy. I'll have loads of that stuff for you on Friday, but, for today, I'm awarding some fun superlatives to books I read this year.

If you are a long-time reader, you know I have done a post like this the past two years. You can find the 2012 and 2013 versions in the archives (or by following the links). I really recommend going back and reading those as well. It's so fun to look back and remember the books that have impacted me the most since I started writing this blog three years ago.

Friday, December 26, 2014

The Bridge of San Luis Rey - Thornton Wilder

The Bridge of San Luis Rey
You all know it has been slow going for me this year in regard to the 100 Best Novels list. Having required reading for grad school left me with little energy or desire for heavy literary reading. 

In light of that, I have made a conscious effort lately to pick up the short books from the list. The longer ones (ahem...I'm looking at you Parade's End) have just been too much and made me feel unmotivated and stalled. The short ones, like this one, make me feel like I'm making progress. Plus, it always helps if I can knock a book out in a day or two. That feels quite satisfying when working toward a goal.

Surprisingly, I am holding steady at the pace of two books per month, should I want to finish by my 30th birthday (which I do). Next year, I am hoping that my new open, flexible schedule allows me more time to dive into those thick volumes that await me on the list.

On to the topic at hand...

The Bridge of San Luis Rey by Thornton Wilder definitely qualifies as one of the shortest books on the Modern Library list. In fact, at the time of its publication, the publisher was angry with Wilder for not writing something longer that they could reasonably sell for more money. 

Thursday, December 25, 2014

Merry Christmas!

After the warmest December I have ever experienced, it hardly seems time to be wishing you a Merry Christmas, and, yet, here we are. 

I hope that you are blessed with a relaxing day with family and friends. May the season truly be merry and bright for you.

I hope you find some great books under the tree with your name on them. I had a bunch on my list this year, including The Night Circus, Reading Lolita in Tehran, and Blood, Bones, and Butter.

I hope not only Christmas, but 2015 as a whole finds you warm, well-fed, healthy, and safe this Christmas. So many people around the world cannot claim those adjectives as their own. Take time to remember them this year and to help if you can. 

Most of all, I hope that this Christmas will be full of love for you. Not only the love of those around you, but also the love of God. After all, His love is what the celebration is all about. God loved us so much that He sent the most precious gift we could ever dream of: redemption through His Son. If you want to know more about that gift, please let me know! I would love to share with you about what Christmas means to me. 

Merry Christmas to all!

Wednesday, December 24, 2014

Rainbow Valley - L. M. Montgomery

Rainbow Valley
I have so enjoyed reading through the Anne of Green Gables series over the past few years. As I have mentioned previously, I do not think I ever actually read through the whole series in my childhood. If my memory serves, I always got stalled around Anne of Ingleside. This may be the first time I ever actually made it to Rainbow Valley.

By this point in the series, Anne is barely mentioned. After all, her name is not even in the title. Surprisingly, much of the book is not even about her family. Instead, a good portion of the book revolves around the Meredith family. 

The Merediths are a new addition to Glen St. Mary. A widower minister and his four children, they also bring along a maiden aunt who's a bit, well, batty. The Meredith clan become quick friends with the Blythe children and the group spend many hours together in the cherished Rainbow Valley. 

Yet, even with the Blythe children floating in and out of the story, the Meredith kids are the real center of the book. Their hijinks keep the whole town either up in arms or highly entertained over the course of the book. They sing songs in the Methodist graveyard, they secretly take in an orphan girl named Mary Vance, they confuse days of the week and skip church to deep clean the manse, they even make apologetic speeches in church, and write in to the local newspaper to explain their actions. It's all very reminiscent of the lovable, nearly unexplainable situations that Anne herself was getting into in those first few books. 

Monday, December 22, 2014

Movie Monday: Bloom

When opportunity arises, I feature Movie Monday. I recognize few people have the time or desire to read the amount I do, especially when it comes to the 100 Best Novels list. Luckily, Hollywood loves adapting a classic and I love a good story in any form.

You all may remember last fall when I reviewed Ulysses by James Joyce. The book ranks #1 on the Modern Library list and I had quite a time with it. Long story short - I didn't like it. I recognize now that I should have taken the time to seek out some supplemental materials that would have helped me understand the book better. Maybe next time, if that day ever comes.

In the mean time, I thought perhaps a film adaptation would help me understand some of what I missed in the written format. There are at least two film adaptations and this one, Bloom, was made in 2003. It doesn't follow the story precisely. It centers more around Leopold Bloom than Stephen Dedalus. In addition to both men, it also spends some time on Molly Bloom, a character barely explored in the novel.

Friday, December 19, 2014

My Story - Elizabeth Smart

My Story
I remember when Elizabeth Smart was kidnapped. And when she was found. The story captured media attention, but it resonated particularly with me. I am, after all, only a few months older than Elizabeth. What happened to her could have happened to me. 

Over the years, I have followed her story with interest. It seems she has turned into a beautiful, competent, compassionate woman - something that should hardly be taken for granted considering the trauma she was subjected to as a young teenager.

This memoir is her own recollection of the events surrounding and during her kidnapping. She sticks pretty exclusively to the nine months she spent with her abductors and only briefly touches on the trial at the end. Though I, along with many readers, I'm sure, would like to know more about her life since the kidnapping, Smart is very private and clearly wants most details of her life to remain undisclosed. 

You have to give her credit, though. She's feeding the media monster just enough to keep it satiated (this book, her wedding photos in People magazine), but no more. I give her props for that. After all, it's not like she chose to be a public figure. She seems to be using the influence she does have for good, raising awareness and such for other victims.

Wednesday, December 17, 2014

The Astronaut Wives Club - Lily Koppel

The Astronaut Wives Club
I don't know what it was about moving, but something about organizing and purging our stuff must have inspired me. I have been slowly working my way through my On Reserve list this fall. I've made to books I've owned for years but never read, finally read the 2014 Pulitzer winner, read and books that have been on my list since I started it. My 100 Best Novels pursuit may be going slowly, but I'm burning through other stuff, and that makes me feel good. 

Someday, when this whole grad school, working remotely, juggling too much thing ends, that's what I plan to do all the time. Just devour books for like a month. I know I can't do it forever, but a few weeks at least. Books and a massage. Anyone looking to send me a graduation gift around the start of May, that's my list. 

For now, though, let's talk about this book. The Astronaut Wives Club by Lily Koppel (no relation to Ted - I checked). It's a nonfiction look at a group of women who were at the center of American attention not that long ago. These women were the wives of the first American men in space. 

Anyone who received their education in the United States has gotten bits and pieces of the NASA story. Space race, moon landing, the whole deal. What I never realized or even though about, however, was the personal story behind it all. These men, most specially chosen from the armed forces, and their families were a media sensation during the height of the space race. Life magazine even cut a special deal with NASA to do cover stories and get special access to the astro-families. 

Monday, December 15, 2014

Thirteen Reasons Why - Jay Asher

Thirteen Reasons Why
I love that my Adolescent Literature course this term has exposed me to a few hidden gems that I somehow had not come across before. Of course, most of what we are reading is super depressing because they are books dealing with heavy issues: gang violence, rape, suicide. 

Suicide. That's the heavy topic of the book today, Jay Asher's Thirteen Reasons Why

I have to admit; I never thought a book about suicide could be so riveting. I was completely glued to this one. Asher somehow turned a very sad story about a high school girl who commits suicide and leaves behind a series of explanatory tapes into a thriller of sorts.

Though Clay Jensen is the character with whom we spend the most time, Hannah Baker is the real main character. When the book opens, Hannah has recently taken her own life. She left behind a secret set of tapes and instructions to send them around to thirteen different people like the worst chain letter in history. On the tapes, Hannah explains how each of the selected thirteen people contributed to her decision to end her life. 

Friday, December 12, 2014

Feed - M. T. Anderson

I have had Feed by M. T. Anderson On Reserve for nearly as long as I have had this blog. Yet, somehow, it never pulled me in quite enough to actually read it. Instead, it languished on the list until my Adolescent Literature course professor assigned it. So, here it is. I finally read it - and for class, too!

The book falls solidly into the popular dystopian genre. A group of teenagers head to the moon for a vacation (yeah, you read that correctly). Protagonist Titus and crew meet Violet, a girl extraordinarily different than any of them. For one thing, she has not had a feed her whole life.

The feed, as the title suggests, is a central part of this futuristic society. The feed, certainly derived in name from the real-life news feed of social media, has now become a brain implant. It is implanted at birth and becomes part of each person's biological system. It registers everything a person says, does, sees...everything. Then, it fills the subject's mind with related advertisements, news, messages, etc. 

The book itself interjects these messages into the plot, making it understandable to the reader how the feed is a constant interruption to thought and critical thinking, not that these characters are doing much critical thinking. They aren't. They are consumers to the extreme. Violet and her father are the exceptions. Her unique outlook on the world is what intrigues Titus from the start. 

Wednesday, December 10, 2014

Z - Therese Anne Fowler

Z: A Novel of Zelda Fitzgerald
This is a book I have had On Reserve for ages. I mean, years, I think. Pretty much ever since it was published in early 2013. 

The premise is this: the life of Zelda Fitzgerald is fictionalized and presented as historical fiction with Zelda herself as narrator. 

If you are anything like me, most of what you know of Zelda Fitzgerald comes from the periphery of your F. Scott knowledge. After all, her husband remains one of the most iconic American novelists ever to have lived. Most of us think of her as Nicole Driver in Fitzgerald's Tender is the Night - hardly an unbiased portrayal. Or we know her from the vivacious portrayal in Woody Allen's film Midnight in Paris

Interestingly, almost all of the images we are given of Zelda are offered up by men. I don't find this to be unimportant or insignificant in an attempt to get to the truth of her life. Was she really as crazy and unstable as Fitzgerald makes her out to be in his work? Was she all fun and games, the model Jazz Age flapper? 

The truth, as always, lies in the middle, I am certain. Therese Anne Fowler takes that tack with her novel, offering Zelda more complexity and more grace than she receives most other places. Fowler certainly does not portray Zelda as flawless or innocent in all matters. But, she also gives her a good deal more wiggle room when it comes to her mental state. Granted, in Fowler's approach, Zelda herself is our narrator. She'd hardly self-identify as crazy. Few do. 

Monday, December 8, 2014

Movie Monday: Mockingjay - Part 1

Mockingjay - Part 1
When opportunity arises, I feature Movie Monday. I recognize few people have the time or desire to read the amount I do, especially when it comes to the 100 Best Novels list. Luckily, Hollywood loves adapting a classic and I love a good story in any form.

Like everyone else, I have been anxiously awaiting this movie, well, basically since Catching Fire came out last year at this time. I know that Mockingjay is largely considered to be the weakest novel of the trilogy (more on that in a moment) and I was excited to see how the adaptation was handled.

I was not disappointed. I thought it was a beautiful adaptation of a difficult book.

Now, I know a lot of people out there have said the movie is just average and does not have the same strength as the previous ones. Almost everyone I have talked to about it, including Kevin, complained that it felt drawn out. I have so many thoughts on all this. Bear with me as I flesh them out.

Also, as an aside, I am going to try and stay spoiler-free for those who may have seen this movie, but not read the book. No promises, but I'll do my best!

Before I can get into the movie, I have to revise my public opinion on Mockingjay. I still feel the book is hurried and that Collins skims over details. Peeta's transformation still tears me apart. But, I no longer think it's a rocky conclusion to the story of Panem and Katniss Everdeen. I think it's the appropriate ending, one for which Collins is not given enough credit.

Friday, December 5, 2014

The Uncommon Reader - Alan Bennett

The Uncommon Reader
Two of my favorite things come together: reading and British royalty. Alan Bennett must have written this book for me.

It's a fun concept: Queen Elizabeth II finds herself in a traveling library outside of Buckingham Palace when her corgis run inside. In an attempt to avoid rudeness, she checks out a book. And, thus begins the monarch's obsession with reading and literature.

Of course, the story isn't true. We don't know what, if anything, QEII likes to read. Bennett has her all over the spectrum, diving ever deeper into more challenging works as her obsession grows.

As the novella progresses, she loses sight of running the country or, really, much of anything beyond books. Her advisors scramble to keep her on track and her family doesn't quite understand. She just keeps reading.

Ultimately, she moves from a love of reading to a desire to write and to share her own story and experiences. 

The story is fun and light heartened. Respectful to the monarch, but still a bit cheeky at points. As really only a novella, it's a short read and easy to accomplish in one day, as I did. I definitely recommend it to anyone looking for a short, playful adventure over the holidays, especially if you enjoy behind-the-scenes looks at royalty (imagined or not) as I do. 

Pages: 120
Date Completed: November 14, 2014

Wednesday, December 3, 2014

Speak - Laurie Halse Anderson


Grad school is back in session for Holiday Term. That month break really revitalized me and got me excited to finish strong. Of course, how can you not be excited when the two classes you are taking over H Term are TV Sitcoms and Adolescent Literature. Yeah...I'm getting credit for reading books and watching TV over the holidays. School is awesome.

No, actually, both classes have already proven themselves to be fascinating in depth looks into entertainment forms that speak volumes. And, speaking of speaking, the first book we read for my Adolescent Lit course (we're doing one per week!) was Speak by Laurie Halse Anderson.

I know this will probably be shocking to some of you Speak fans out there, but I had never read this book before. Actually, I'm pretty sure I hadn't even heard of it. I knew nothing about it and went in completely blind. This is so rare for me, seeing as most books I read I pick up because I've heard something about them. Reading Speak this way was a great reminder of the value of just opening a book and starting, not knowing anything or having any preconceived notions or expectations to taint your experience.

For those of you who, like me, may also be unfamiliar with the book, I'll do a quick run down. Melinda is a high school freshman who had a traumatic experience at a party just before school started. It changed her and she now lives with the burden of her secret every day. She is afraid to tell anyone what happened to her. "Speak" is such an appropriate title because, as the book progresses, it becomes clear that speaking up is the most important and the most frightening thing she could do. In the mean time, she speaks through her hands in art class. 

Monday, December 1, 2014

November 2014 Chapter

Welcome to the Read.Write.Repeat. monthly wrap-up.  Every month, I give a quick overview of what books I read, the progress made on the 100 Best Novels goal, a few book-related links, and general blog news.  

November News

It's officially the holiday season. I love this time of year. Thanksgiving, the greatest holiday ever, has just passed and Christmas is in full swing. I hope this year holds much cheer for you.

After a 7-hour trip surpassed 9 yesterday, we sure are glad to be home and getting into Christmas mode. Before we plunge straight in, though, here's a recap of November-ish things.